Monday, June 4, 2018

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1823 (starts 6/6/18)

    Once again we only have half a dozen tracks. Interestingly, four of them are under five minutes in length. What does that tell you about the other two?

Artist:    Three Dog Night
Title:    Joy To The World
Source:    Mono CD: Billboard Top Rock 'N' Roll Hits-1971 (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Hoyt Axton
Label:    Rhino (original label: Dunhill)
Year:    1970
    Rock and country music have always had a unique relationship. Some of the earliest rock stars either came from a country background (like Elvis Presley) or ended up having a career in country music (such as most of Presley's labelmates at Sun Records). In fact, it could be argued that rock 'n' roll was as much a child of country and western music (as it was then called) as it was of rhythm and blues (called race music in the 40s and early 50s). By the late 1960s, however, rock and country had come to represent opposing sides in a growing generation gap, with country the preferred choice of many older, more conservative Americans, while rock was becoming the music of choice of the anti-establishment youth of the time. This distinction, however, was not as strongly felt among the musicians themselves. In fact, one of the musical trends of the early 1970s was country-rock, pioneered by bands like the Byrds (post David Crosby) and Poco. Many country artists scored hits on the country charts with their own versions of rock hits, and, on occasion, a country song would cross over and become a top 40 hit (Roger Miller's King Of The Road being a prime example). Some artists were themselves hard to define. Hoyt Axton, a folk singer whose style reflected his Oklahoma roots, was popular among the country crowd, yet some of his songs, such as The Pusher, resonated with the underground rock audience as well. His biggest crossover hit, however, was a song he wrote in 1970 called Joy To The World. The Three Dog Night recording of the song was, in fact, the #1 song of the year 1971. Axton would continue to have a successful career as a songwriter for many years, sometimes even as a recording artist, as was the case with Bony Fingers (with Renee Armand), a top 10 country hit in 1974.

Artist:    T. Rex
Title:    Bang A Gong (Get It On)
Source:    LP: Electric Warrior
Writer(s):    Marc Bolan
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1971
    My memories of my senior year of high school are somewhat spotty. Some things I remember quite vividly, yet have forgotten the context that those memories reside in. For instance, I clearly remember being at my friend Dave's cheap apartment in early 1971 in Alamogordo, NM, listening to the Tyrannosaurus Rex album Unicorn on an even cheaper stereo. What I don't remember is how I got to Dave's cheap apartment that particular night or whether I crashed there or went back to my parent's house. For that matter, I don't even remember if anyone else was there or not that night, not even Dave's kind-of girlfriend, who came and went as she pleased anyway. I do remember, however, discussing with Dave how strange this psychedelic folk music with fantasy-based lyrics sounded compared to rock bands like the Allman Brothers, Ten Years After and Santana, and in particular how weird the singer's voice sounded to us. To us, it was truly underground stuff along the lines of the Incredible String Band, with no commercial potential. Imagine my surprise when, a few months later, I heard that same weird voice on top 40 radio singing Bang A Gong (Get It On). It turns out that Marc Bolan had originally been a lead guitarist with a psychedelic band called John's Children, but had hooked up with drummer Steve Peregrine Took to form Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967, eschewing electric instruments entirely for three albums' worth of material, the third of which was the aforementioned Unicorn. The two of them had a falling out, however, with Took moving on to other things while a newly re-electrified Bolan added new members and shortened the name of the group to T. Rex. From 1970 to 1973 T. Rex scored 11 consecutive top 10 singles on the British charts, four of them (including Get It On) going to the #1 spot. The actual title of the song, incidentally is Get It On, but, due to a band called Chase having a US hit with a song called Get It On in 1971, it was decided to retitle the tune Bang A Gong (Get It On) for its US release.

Artist:     Blind Faith
Title:     Well, All Right
Source:     CD: Blind Faith
Writer:     Petty/Holly/Allison/Mauldin
Label:     Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:     1969
     Supergroup Blind Faith was made up of members of Cream (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker), Family (Rick Grech) and Traffic (Steve Winwood). The group only recorded one LP before disbanding, and almost all of the material on that album was written by members of the band. The lone exception was a heavily-modified arrangement of Buddy Holly's Well All Right, which sounds more like a Traffic song than any other track on the LP.

Artist:    Rascals
Title:    Peaceful World
Source:    LP: Peaceful World
Writer(s):    Felix Cavaliere
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1971
    The Young Rascals, in a very real way, ceased to exist with the departure of vocalist Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish in 1970. The band had officially shortened its name to the Rascals a couple of years earlier and had been steadily moving away from its trademark blue-eyed soul sound and incorporating elements of jazz, funk and other musical disciplines on its final albums for the Atlantic label. Keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere, however, still had musical ideas to share, and set about recruiting new members for the eighth Rascals album, Peaceful World, including guitarist Buzz Feiten, who had just finished a stint with the Butterfield Blues Band, and wind player Joe Farrell, who would go on to be a member of Chick Corea's band Return To Forever. Soul music in general was undergoing a transition from the dance-oriented pop hits from Motown and Memphis to a more sophisticated sound, as represented by Marvin Gaye's landmark LP What's Going On and albums from west coast bands like Malo and Tower Of Power. Peaceful World was the first Rascals album not to be released on the Atlantic label. The Columbia release was also the first (and only) double LP by the Rascals, with several extended jams, including the title track, which features two solos each by Cavaliere (one on guitar and one on keyboards) and Farrell (flute and saxophone), and takes up the entire fourth side of the album. Unfortunately, the album did not find a large audience, and after one more LP the Rascals officially disbanded.

Artist:     Pentangle
Title:     Jack Orion
Source:     European import CD: Cruel Sister
Writer(s):    Trad., arr. Pentangle
Label:     Castle (original label: Reprise)
Year:     1970
     The showpiece of the 1970 Pentangle album Cruel Sister was this 18 1/2 minute version of the old English folk song Jack Orion. Done in a theme and variations type of format favored by classical composers, this song was first recorded by Pentangle member Bert Jansch on a solo LP.

Artist:    Grateful Dead
Title:    Friend Of The Devil
Source:    CD: Skeletons From The Closet (originally released on LP: American Beauty)
Writer(s):    Garcia/Dawson/Hunter
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    The Grateful Dead spent three years and four albums trying to capture the energy of their live performances on vinyl. Having finally succeeded with the 1969 Live Dead album the group began to focus more on their songwriting capabilities. The result was two outstanding studio albums, both released in 1970: Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Of the two, American Beauty is made up almost entirely of songs played on acoustic instruments, including pedal steel guitar, which was played by Jerry Garcia. One of the best-known tracks on American Beauty is Friend Of The Devil, which lyricist Robert Hunter referred to as "the closest we've come to what may be a classic song."

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